Thursday, May 09, 2013

Untimely thoughts about social media

Several years ago, I deleted Facebook. After several months, I had to come back. Or, rather, I came back because I realized that I lost all social contact once it couldn’t be mediated through the site. That made me sad, but I figured it was the way things work now. 

After a few recent experiences, I am going to do something very close to deleting it again. Last week, I winnowed down my list of connections by more than a fifth, eliminating both people to whom I really don’t feel a connection and people to whom I do—or did—feel connected, but who had chosen never to make any real-world connection to me or toward whom I had made the same choice. That is, there are lots of people that I could very easily call up, or who could call me up—or text, given my terror of the phone—to do something, but with whom that never happens. We live in the same city or nearly, but our connection is watching one another live through the mediation of a computer screen. There were also quite a few people with whom I have talked about how great it would be to get together if ever we are in the same city; when that opportunity has actually presented itself, we have seen neither hide nor hair of the other. Sometimes the fault has been mine, sometimes theirs. We’ve been within blocks of one another, but after a decade of talk, ignored each other.

At least one of the people I had “unfriended” then engaged me in conversation about how that felt. And, I thought, we don’t do anything, you don’t care about our lack of connection, but somehow when we can’t look at each others postings, there is the moment when the pain is too great. The way it was put was that it was a hit to the ego when our virtual connection ended.

Just this week a friend—not a close friend, but more than an acquaintance—ended his life, though so many of us were witnessing his life through the medium of social media. We were connected, but not connected at all.

I am a bit of a curmudgeon. This is true. But, I remember when being a friend meant a good deal more than liking a status or leaving a snarky comment or even a clever one. I miss that. And, I sort of wonder why we let Facebook take that from us. Or, why we gave it up. But, for the most part, we did. And, that makes me sad.

I should say that a lot of things make me sad. I have basically two states: sad and lonely. And, Facebook feeds both of them. Seeing what people are doing without me doesn’t make me feel happier or more connected. Is this a problem with me? Absolutely. But, I doubt that I am alone. 

Anyway, I am reminded that Facebook makes me sadder and lonelier than I would be if no one were connecting with me—and I am pretty sure that without it, my phone and email won’t be full of messages. So, starting this weekend, I am going to be deleting most of my connections. But, this doesn’t mean in any way that those connections don’t matter to me. Instead, it is largely because those connections do matter. But I want real connections—like Aristotle, I believe that friendship is essential to the good life, but ersatz friendship is no more friendship than masturbation is sex.

I am going to be keeping family; professional connections; people from high school, college, and grad school; and people who live on other continents or far, far away. (Were it not for them, I would delete the whole thing.) I hope that I will still have contact with the rest of you. But, I’d really like that contact to occur in person. Even if it doesn’t, you will be in my thoughts. My email will stay the same, my phone number will be the same, my blog will still be here, and I will still be on Twitter at @tylerhower. But, Facebook will be mostly gone. 

1 comment:

Chris said...

Love that you're posting this because I've had the same conversation with the online community in my head.

I've repeatedly contemplated doing the same -- paring down my connections on Facebook to streamline my newsfeed. For me, it's more about culling out what I care about, signal vs. noise, saving time, efficiency. But I feel you on the FOMO part.

The part I disagree with is the ersatz friendship analogy to masturbation and sex -- and maybe this is a personal, "YMMV"-type issue but... I've had so many experiences of running into acquaintances on the street and having a unexpectedly smooth and intimate interaction with them because of our likes, sharing, and clever comments to each other on Facebook.

I'd caveat that by saying it depends on the person, but I've had more positive experiences like this through Facebook than not.

Oh, and I'd hate to stop seeing your posts on my news feed... Though if you were to defriend me, promise you'll make your blog posts public so I can still Subscribe to you. :-)